The Rockies biggest rival is playing in a different league entirely
SportsBiz: Asset consolidation takes a hold of Major League Baseball
Image courtesy of Mike J. Wolfe / Shutterstock.com
If you don’t follow Major League Baseball, allow me to summarize what happened this winter while you were brooding about the Broncos and watching Tom Brady shill for Hulu in a TV commercial.
What happened is that a major global conglomerate with far-flung investments — the Los Angeles Dodgers — agreed to spend wads of cash to consolidate ownership of some of the premiere assets in the market, one of which is Mookie Betts.
Admittedly, “Mookie Betts” is a name you might select for a lovable golden retriever with floppy ears. But alas, this Mookie Betts is no innocent pup, but rather what a Silicon Valley venture capitalist might call a “unicorn,” or a category-leading entrant in a field where consolidation is rapidly occurring and it’s good to get in on the momentum while you can. Mookie Betts is what you could call a “generational” baseball player, outfitted to the cap-bill with talent you rarely encounter. What Nolan Arenado is to the Colorado Rockies, Mookie Betts is (or was) times two to the Boston Red Sox, which plays in this story the role of seller cashing out to buyer, of scrappy entrepreneur taking the offer from the jet-setter CEO.
When the Dodgers, already flush with All Star-caliber talent throughout the lineup, announced they were on the verge of adding Mookie Betts, it was the equivalent of the 2017 transaction in which Amazon.com Inc. acquired the grocery retailer Whole Foods, assuring that it is now impossible to buy anything in America without paying Jeff Bezos.
This is no stretch. What’s happening in baseball, and is encapsulated in the Mookie-goes-to-Los Angeles tale, is the same thing that is happening across the U.S. economy, which is that big companies are getting big enough not only to dominate their categories but to more or less dominate the planet. If you hadn’t noticed, wealth is now concentrated to such a degree that about six people now control the world’s riches, and the rest of us, like children transfixed in snowfall, stick our tongues out and hope to catch a flake or two.
What this means for baseball is that if you are the Colorado Rockies – and here, let’s pause to consider how fortunate we are that we are not the Colorado Rockies – you have about as much chance of competing with the fat-cat Dodgers as you do of launching an upstart competitor to Whole Foods. The odds aren’t good when your larger rival (Amazon) has a market capitalization now exceeding $1 trillion, whereas you’re counting on Uncle Gerald to float you $50,000 to lease that empty building on South Broadway. Also, you’re going to need some broccoli.
Whether you should care about the trajectory of Major League Baseball – the asset consolidation, the rich-get-richer ethos, the disappearance of a middle class – is your call, but for some of us, the trend lines do not seem favorable, given that on occasion when we visit Coors Field to catch a ballgame, we’d prefer to suspend disbelief long enough to think that our team might have a fighting chance of, you know, winning or something.
On second thought, it’s more than that: We’d like to believe, naïve though we may be, that somewhere across baseball’s fruited plain there is a chance for an American renaissance story to unfold, for the little guy to gobsmack the big guy, for a ragamuffin bunch of determined athletes to take it to The Man. We pine for the Kansas City Royals of 2015, a nondescript bunch who managed to scrap their way into the World Series and win the damn thing.
That season now seems like a very long time ago, and as we watch the corporate machinery vacuum up the A-list talent and deposit it onto the L.A. Dodgers roster, it’s hard not to be a bit nostalgic about a baseball past that, like a bygone USA, managed to spread the wealth at least a little bit. The rich-get-ridiculously-richer storyline has the tendency to deflate most of the joy, even before the first 99 MPH fastball thwocks the catcher’s mitt loud enough to echo across Blake Street. It’s true in early spring that anything could happen in baseball, but it’s honestly hard not to think the outcome of this season is already scripted. As an easy NL West favorite, the Dodgers were good to begin with. Now they’re even better. To be truthful, they’re Betts.